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Is JACC dying?

March 29, 2018

74766424 - grave yard tomb stone in misty, green cemetery.

Two nonprofit organizations I care about are waning and it hurts. It hurts because I want to jump in and save both, but I don’t know how.

And even if I could, I am not sure I should. My father tried to raise me to be indispensable in everything I do. I have come to realize I am more successful if I build a program, project, or organization that can survive me.

One organization –my church– has decided it is time to close its doors or transform into some other undetermined entity. The other, which I have worked with for many more years, may also be going through its final throes; it is the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

I served on the JACC Board of Directors in one capacity or another for nearly 35 years before stepping down a few years ago due to burn out. Then last year I retired from my teaching position at Cerritos College after 41 years of running journalism programs at four community colleges. (The last 21 were at Cerritos.) Again, burnout moved me toward retirement after feeling for many years that I would work until I die; I loved my work so much.

I was able to leave my Cerritos program in good shape and while it will transition under new leadership –something that is good– it has a strong foundation. There many strengths in the JACC organization when I stepped down, but problems were brewing. The last few years have been tough for the organization.

My brilliant wife, who often serves as my muse and is clearly wiser than I, keeps telling me that nonprofit organizations have lifespans and I should learn to let go if it is JACC’s time to go has come. It served such a valuable role in my career and in the lives of thousands of community college journalism students that I find it hard to let go, even if I am merely a side player these days. I want to jump in and save it. I cannot.

The leaders of JACC these days are starting to see the writing on the wall and are forming a volunteer task force to discuss what role the organization should play these days. I hope they are successful.

That last few years have been a financial and organizational struggle that seems to have been mostly successful, even if the organization has lost members and its main source of revenue, its conferences, are hurting because of the loss of membership. Sustainability is still in question because the scope of the organization’s activities either need a paid director or a stronger volunteer force than it can muster.

There is an outstanding group of volunteers trying to keep the patient alive, but long-term sustainability still is an issue.

And that is not surprising. Volunteerism in nonprofits in the country has been waning for more than a decade.

The national volunteer rate among American adults declined significantly between the years 2006 and 2015. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016).

It is not just JACC that is having problems.

Further, older, more mature educated adults are among those most likely to volunteer in any organization, and the pool of journalism instructors in community college is seeing a larger turnover due to to retirements these days due to a maturing faculty at all community colleges. Younger instructors who replace them, in general, are less likely to volunteer as they rightly choose to put their efforts into building their careers, families, and personal communities.

Yet, during its strongest era from the early 1990s to the early 2000s, it was the younger mid-career teachers who were among the ones most likely to volunteer. (I started my commitment my second year as a full-time instructor.) There are younger teachers today who ARE volunteering, but their commitment to the volunteer job is more likely to be for just a few years rather than many years. That is not an indictment, just a symptom of today’s workforce that seems to be having an effect on many organizations. There are a lot guesses on why that is so, but no one seems to know for sure.

Is my wife correct, that organizations have a lifespan and sometimes they need to die so that something else can rise from the ashes, is it time for JACC to die or transform? Probably so. But knowing that does not make it easy.

As I was researching for this blog post, I ran across an interesting chart on the lifespan of organization at https://www.501commons.org/engage/about-the-service-corps/volunteer-resources/info/nonprofit-life-cycle.

I learned from this site and others to look at the lifecycles of nonprofit organizations thusly.:

Grass Roots – Invention (0-5 years)
Start-Up – Incubation (1-2 years)
Adolescent – Growing (2-5 years)
Mature – Sustainability (7-30 years)
Stagnation & Renewal (2-5 years)
Decline and Shut-Down (1-2 years)

Community colleges have been around in California for more than 100 years, but it was not until the 1950s –and again in the 1970s– when they experienced growth spurts. Today there are 114 community colleges in the state that serve 2.1 million students.

JACC was started by a grass roots group of instructors in the mid-1950s. They cozied on to an existing organization for university programs called the California Intercollegiate Press Association. (That organization lived out its lifespan in 2001-02 and a new organization arose from the ashes to serve all California colleges: the California College Media Association.)

These instructors started a community college group called the Journalism Association of Junior Colleges (as community colleges were known at that times) to work alongside CIPA. In the 1960s it was in its adolescent years and struck off on its own. It reached maturity in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

I got involved in the 1980s. (Indeed, my masters thesis was a history of the first 25 years of the organization.)

The current stagnation stage started sometime in the last seven years. As I indicated above, it has been going through a particularly painful reorganization in the last few years. Will it renew itself, or has it started its final stage? It certainly has lasted longer than the chart would suggest.

I stepped down from the board after 35 years and my FORMAL membership in the organization ended last June with my retirement. (I don’t think I will ever leave entirely, and have been involved in several ways this year. I have even invented ways to be involved.)

I still care a lot and want to help keep the organization alive, or at least help define what may rise in its place should it die. Time permitting, I hope to follow this post with several talking about what has happened, what is working, what is not and why, and what is worth preserving.

But I have to do so cautiously. I am not a formal member any more and it is today’s members who have to decide what they want and what they are willing to do to have it.

To those colleagues who may be reading this and future posts: forgive me if I say something that comes off as criticism. It is not my intent. I have 35 years inside experience –indeed, I may have even contributed to the problems– and I care. One way to look at it is that this is the price for labeling me as Mr. JACC.

– – – –

Myth: I did not start JACC.

Fact: Yes, I probably am a bit crazy.

Myth: No, there is not more than one of me. I did all that I did while maintaining a program, just like you. You can do both, too, if you desire.

Fact: Yeah, I probably gave up some family time that I should not have. It is better to find balance. It is best to challenge yourself to do more to give back to a cause you believe in. I have always trained those I have mentored into giving back to the organizations that serve them.

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3 comments

  1. I can appreciate your blog post. After all, I just read a post today about the death of Unity: https://www.cjr.org/first_person/unity-organization-journalists-color-diversity.php
    However, as one of those serving on the taskforce, and as someone who just took 20 very satisfied and happy students to the state convention, I feel confident that we are moving back into a strong time for the organization. I say this as a mid-career adviser who has a clear sense of where the organization’s been, and I say this with a certain letting go of that previous path as to let newer advisers steer the ship. JACC will survive!!


    • I’m rooting for you and the others.


      • I know you are, Rich. You always have!



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